In the valley of the Nore

A social history of Thomastown,

County Kilkenny, 1840-1983

Marilyn Silverman and P.H. Gulliver

941.89 THO

This is an excellent template for writing a parish history . The two authors go into great detail about many aspects of the parish of Thomastown and include a survey carried out in 1981 comparing the past with the present .


"...unhappy the land lacking historians where the people live neglectful of what forces made them." (Morgan 1981)

in this book we present a local history of Thomastown, County Kilkenny. In so doing, we try to suggest to local people some means of understanding 'what forces made them,' even though some of those forces - for example, evictions, civil war, antagonisms between farmers and labourers - may be painful to remember. Yet these, along with the good things - such as the rising prosperity of the mid-twentieth century, the humour and warmth of Mill Street culture, and the co-operation of all classes to provide such important amenities as a Concert Hall and Community Centre - together make up the historical experience of Thomastown. In Thomastown. roots go far back into the past. According to Owen O'Kelly's history of County Kilkenny, the name of Grennan referred 'to an old Irish settlement by the Nore 'which was renamed after Thomas Fitzanthony,'the grantee of lands here after the Anglo-Norman invasion' in the thirteenth century. The present history. however, begins five centuries after that time, in the 1830s, and it continues until the 1980s. Our account, therefore, is about the recent past. Another writer of recent, local history, in Suffolk, England, has said:

'We think ... that anything that has happened within the present century is hardly worth the name of history. It is as if we have told ourselves: 'Why My grandfather remembers that, therefore it cannot possibly be history.' The result is that historical knowledge is in many respects a blank. and we have more knowledge about people distant in place and time than we do about our own immediate forbears.' (Evans 1961-14)

Thus, in addition to describing some of the important forces in Thomastown- history, we also try to provide Thomastown people with an account of the past which they, their parents and their grandparents experienced first-hand. But what is Thomastown? Who are Thomastown people? What is the unit of this history? The name "Thomastown" is used by local people and official documents in many different ways. It may mean a townland, a town, an electoral division, a rural district (formerly, a poor law union), a Civil parish, a Catholic parish. or a vaguely defined area consisting of a town and its surrounding country whose residents focus on the town for many purposes.

We decided to take the Catholic parish as our unit in writing this book. This is because the parish boundaries are clear and fairly well known and because the parish has long-standing significance for people. Yet we are well aware, as are parish residents, that people within the parish have many interests and activities beyond its boundaries. Moreover, many people who live outside the parish regularly use the facilities of the town and even think of themselves as Thomastown people.

We faced another problem in using the Catholic parish as the basis for this book. This was because governmental information (such as population censuses, agricultural statistics, voting patterns, etc.) has never been provided for the Catholic parish but only for townlands, district electoral divisions and the rural district. As a result, when we needed such information. we were generally forced to concentrate not on the parish, but on the two DEDs of Thomastown and Jerpoint Church both of which, however, lie wholly within the parish.

While doing our research on Thomastown, we lived in the town for fourteen months during 1980-1981 and for five months during the summer of 1983. During that time, we tried to collect all the information which we could find on both Thomastown history and contemporary life. To do this. we used a wide variety of archival sources which we obtained locally, in Kilkenny City and in Dublin. These included parochial registers, valuation records, census returns, deeds, wills, County Kilkenny newspapers, local business, farm and school records, minute books, government statistics and reports, etc. We also talked with as many Thomastown people as we could - with farmers, shopkeepers, labourers, artisans, fishermen, housewives, teachers, local officials, etc.; and we talked with them about events, people, family histories, local organisations, activities and life in both the past and present. Then, in order to learn more about life in 1981, we made a detailed survey of all households in the two DEDs of Jerpoint Church and Thomastown. Finally, we tried to participate in local life as much as possible; and we did what most Thomastown people do a good deal of the time - we gossiped about local events and people.

From all these varied sources, we have tried to provide a picture of Thomastown life since the 1830s. However, we ask the reader to remember two things. First, we could not cover everything about Thomastown in the limited space available. Our choice of topics reflects our personal interests. Second, we decided that it would be wrong to hide the names of the local heroes and ordinary people who have contributed to the life of the parish. Therefore, all names in this book are those of real people, places, groups and associations. In using these names, we hope to add to the good esteem and memory which they already hold in the hearts and minds of Thomastown people. To quote the local poet, Tusa:

'Last night as I lay dreaming, cares forgot,

A thousand thoughts came trooping to that spot:

And each Tempter, finding all defences down,

Whispered to me of lovely Thomastown.

So here I come, acushla gal macree,

Strong in my weakness, and proud for all to see;

Who made no mark in history' or sought renown,

just happy to dwell in lovely Thomastown.'








The list of contents give a good outline of what is involved .




1. Introduction 1

Descriptions of Thomastown

A selection from various travel writers giving descriptions of the town including Amhlaoib Ó Suilleabháin , Pigots Directory , Royal national Directory and quotes from the Chairman of the Quarter sessions in the local newspaper , "The Moderator " Other descriptions come from Governmental enquiries , Royal commissions and extracts from the local newspapers .

3. In the Beginning

Labourers, Cottiers and Farmers in 1836                     8 

British Parliamentary Commission investigating causes of Tithe War gives details of this chapter up to 1836 .

Thomastown during the Great Famine, 1845-1849                 13

Minutes of the Kilkenny Board of Guardians , poor Relief committee for Thomastown , Communication to the Grand jury for the county , Reports in local newspapers "The moderator " and national newspapers "Dublin Evening Post " . The authors also asked elderly peple n the parish of their memories of stories of the Famine

4. The People

The Population of the Parish. 1841-1981 18

comparison of Census figures 1841 - 1911 -1970 for several townlands around the town and also expressed as a percentage of the 1841 Census

Thomastown Housing, 1841-1981                                 23

The number of occupied houses in each townland and street for 1844 , 1901 and 1970 . descriptions of quality of houses is obtained from reports in local newspapers and 1901 Census . A comparison is made on the figures in the 1901 Census between numbers of rooms per household and occupation of head of household .

Marriage                                                                         27

Comparison of age of marriage between 1871 and 1891 Census . From the 1901 Census a comparison is made of the age of marriage of farmers , farmers sons , shopkeepers , artisans , general labourers and farm labourers . This was compared with the data for the 1936 and 1961 censuses and the survey by the authors in 1981 .

The People in 1901                                                             32

A comparison is made of the different occupations of the rural dwellers and town dwellers in the parish and also the different household structures in the parish , person living alone , brothers and sister alone , married couple alone , married couple and children , married couple and children and parent of couple , married couple and children and brother or sister of couple , two unrelated people , other . A comparison was made of these groupings between urban and rural dwellers and also by occupation of head of household . This data was compared with the results of a survey carried out in 1981 .

The People in 1981. the Results of a Survey                             37

5. Trade and Industry

The Port of Thomastown                                                         42

The community of Thomastown would be defined as being in the valley of the Nore and this involved transport on the river and river associated industries such as milling . A report of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society of 1851 described Thomastown forty years earlier . There was also a report of a Parliamentary commission into the town . Again reports from local newspapers give details of the attempts to set up the port . There were petitions to the grand Jury to establish a port in Thomastown and provide a service to Waterford if the river was deepened in parts . However the petition to establish the port did not go ahead as it was in competition with the Railway being built from Waterford to Kilkenny .

Thomastown and its Railway                                                 44

Newspaper reports in the local newspaper "The Moderator" and "The Irish Railway Gazette" give details of the meetings to set up the railway and the arguments in favour of alternate routes . Figures are given for the income of the railway from passengers , parcels , goods and cattle from 1853 -1900 .

Shopkeepers and Retail Trade                                                     50

The number of shops and their owners is traced from 1840 to 1981 . The different businesses carried on changed over time as also did the families involved in the shops . The amount of business done and services provided is also examined . Lists of shopkeepers and their locations for 1845 , 1884 , 1911 and 1945 are given .

Fairs                                                                                             57

The right to hold fairs in Thomastown was granted in a charter by Queen Mary in the sixteenth century and these continued until 1970 when they were replaced by a coop mart . The dates of the fairs and the amount of business carried on is extracted from the local newspapers .

Thomastown's Tanneries                                                                 59

There were two different tanneries . information about the amount of business carried out was obtained from the newspapers , from trade journals "Irish Leather Trades Journal " and "Milling" and from the minutes of the Thomastown Trades and Labour League . Memories of some of the older residents of working in the tanneries also help to add to the information about them .

Milling in Thomastown: small-scale Entrepreneurs 61

There were twelve mills in the parish in 1849 with a value of buildings from £15 to £157 . Twenty three pages of the book are devoted to the business of the mills and their decline and amalgamation . The sources available for details of the mills were quite extensive and included entries from Griffith’s Valuation , Tithes listings , deeds and leases of the mills Court cases where millers were fined for having salmon nets on their sluices were also reported . Newspaper advertisements of mills to let also give useful information and records of Boards of Guardians at the time of the Famine also contribute to our knowledge . parish records give information about the families of the millers . Wills were also examined .

A court case in the Kilkenny Summer Assizes of 1854 in to the rights of water gives useful information and several other court cases involving mills and millers are reported . The fire in one of the mills and subsequent bankruptcy of the miller are extensively reported . Pilsworth family records also outline their involvement in the milling industry in the area . Information about mill workers , wages and mill artisans were obtained from several sources including records of the local Labour Party .

The Mills of Grennan                                                                     71

Work in the Mill and Life in Mill Street                                             79

Artisans                                                                                         85

Artisans were broken down into three groups . Artisan /vendors made something to sell . The only member of this group that survives today would be bakers . self employed artisans included masons , carpenters , painters and glaziers . The third group were employed artisans who worked for somebody else at one of the above trades .Numbers and names of artisans were obtained for the years 1846 , 1884 , 1911 , 1945 and the authors survey of 1981 .

Employment Patterns. 1841-1981 90

A comparison was made for different areas of the parish for the percentage employed in agricultural employment and for other employment for the census years 1841 , 1861 and 1901 . This was compared with the 1981 survey where employees of the various factories in the town were tabulated and the percentage of these employees resident in the town given .

Land and Agriculture

34 pages of the book are given to the examination of agricultural practices in the parish .

Farm Families and Farms                                                         93

A comparison was made between lists of farmers in 1849 (Griffiths ) and present day to see how many present day farms can be traced back to 1849 and how many 1849 farmers have descendants on farms now . This was compared over 26 townlands from townlands and the size of their holdings


Crops and Cattle. 1847-1975                                                         97

The percentage of land in tillage in 1847 , 1851 , 1925 , 1945 and 1975 is also compared and these differences were also noted over the nine DEDs that are included in the parish . The crops grown , wheat , oats , barley , potatoes , turnips , mangels , cabbage and hay and the average yields in each DED were compared for each of these years . The numbers of cattle , sheep , pigs , horses , mules , goats and poultry for the years 1850 , 1876 , 1896 , 1914 , 1925 , 1935 , 1945 , 1955 and 1970 is also given .

Farm Workers 105

Details of the 1885 Farm Labourers riots was obtained from the local and national newspapers The riots were due to the introduction of reaping machines by the landlords to replace agricultural labourers .

The labourers were of two types , the migrant workers from other areas of Ireland . farm labourers from the locality were either unmarried in which case they lived in the farm house or married labourers who lived in "tied cottages "

A large amount of the information on farming practices in Thomastown was obtained from the 1893 royal commission which investigated the nature of agricultural labour in Ireland . Fifteen farm labourers in the parish were examined by the commission . Information on the farming community was also obtained by analysis of the 1901 census and from summaries of DEDs in 1927 , 35 , 40 , 45 , 50 , 55 , 70 and 75 . recollections of older inhabitants helped to give information on farming life from the 1920s onward .


Thomastown's Landlords                                                                 112

A large amount of information was obtained about the various landlords in the parish and how the different land acts from 1895 to 1924 affected these holdings

Middlemen and Agents: Land and Housing                                         116

Details on middlemen and agents was obtained from several Parliamentary Inquiries

Farm Rents                                                                         119

Farm rents were obtained from Tithes Lists (1833) , notes of surveyors of Griffiths Valuation (1845) and Encumbered Estates Court records (1850 - 1860) . later in the century rents were obtained from newspaper reports and land Courts records Poor Law Valuation was also obtained for 1849 . There were no surviving estate record books for the parish .

Evictions                                                                             123

Details of evictions were obtained from the local newspapers .

7. Government and Elections

Local Government: an Introduction                                         128

Details of local government in the area which consisted of Thomastown Corporation , Kilkenny Board of Guardians and twice yearly grand juries was obtained findings of Parliamentary Commissions , local newspapers and Corporation minutes and Grand jury Presentments

Thomastown Corporation                                                     129

Grand Juries at Presentment Sessions                                     134

The Board of Guardians and the Poor Law Union                 136

Rural District and County Councils                                         137

Parliamentary Elections                                                             139

The list of poor Law Union Guardians , Rural District Councillors and County Councillors resident in the parish from 1850 to 1985 is given and MPs that represented the constituency containing Thomastown from 1841 to 1918 .

Political Protest and Social Conflict

Seventy five pages are devoted to political protest and social conflict covering topics as widespread as election of an MP from the parish , sheep stealing , nationalist movements in the parish from 1830 to 1916 . The effect of WW1 , the banning of a parade by the town band . It appears that most of this information was obtained from the local paper "The Moderator " . Some of the information on residents of the town that joined the British Army was obtained from records of the British Legion and minutes of the Thomastown Rural District Council . Coverage of events in 1916 differd in the two local newspapers and these differing slants on events continued during the war of Independence and the Civil War . large amounts of material on this period are also obtained from minutes of the RDC .

The 1852 Election of William Shee of Thomastown                 142

The Thomastown Sheep Robberies, 1864-1868                     145

Nationalist Movements in the Parish, 1830-1916                     152

The Lads in the Band: An Episode in 1890                                 159

World War 1 and the Thomastown British Soldier                     162

Nationalism in the Troubled Times, 1911-1919                         167

Nationalist Politics on Thomastown Rural District Council,         175

The War of Independence: Events in Thomastown                     182

The Civil War in Thomastown                                                     188

The 193Os: Economic War and Political Conflict                         195

The period of the 1930s and the Labour Movement in the town also is covered by extracts from the newspapers and the parliamentary inquiry of 1836 into the Condition of the Poorer Classes also contributes to the latter topic .

The Labour Movement in Thomastown                                         199

"Me River. Me Net and Me Cot:" Thomastown's Fishermen         206

Details of poaching on the river were obtained from Court cases in the newspapers and also from the State Papers office in Dublin castle series of outrage papers .

Public Rights and Private Property: Fishery Prosecutions in 1880 213



A new church was built in Thomastown in 1840 and details of this were obtained from the architectural magazine "The Builder " . A paragraph is given on each of the nine parish priests between 1838 and 1973 . An article written by a parishioner in the 1940s describing the seating arrangement in the church based on class is included .

The Catholic Chapel and Parish Priests                                 217

Church and Social Class                                                     220

The Protestants                                                                     223

The Protestant population declined from 55 in 1840 to only a handful in 1983 . They seemed to be transient and only two families had survived from 1840 to 1922 .The 1901 census was analysed for the place of birth and class of the Protestant population . and interaction between the Protestant and catholic communities is illustrated b several examples from the newspapers .

10. Public Services and Voluntary Associations

The Town as a Service Centre                                                 228

The town as a service centre is described in the final chapter . Details on postal and banking services are given as well as hotels and transport . The variety of services provided in the town and medical and legal services are also described . A paragraph is given to men’s clubs , musical entertainment and voluntary associations

The Poor and the Elderly: From Workhouse to St. Columba's 233

Six pages are given to describing the workhouse with material obtained from newspapers and Board of Guardians minutes . There are also sections describing education , the farmers co-operative , the credit union , a flood that occurred in 1931 , the Concert Hall and the community Council .

Education                                                                             238

Co-operatives                                                                     240

"When the Flood Came Thundering Down"                             242

The Concert Hall                                                                     245

The Community Council                                                         249

Dates in Thomastown History 252

The final four pages of the book are one line for each year from 1823 to 1983 giving some significant event for each year .

12. List of References 256

13. Index of Places 257

The list of tables gives further information as to subjects covered in this text .

List of Tables, Maps and Plates

1. The Population of Thomastown Parish, 1841-1979 21

2. Townland Population: 1841, 1911 and 1979 22

3. The Population of Thomastown "Town" and the towns of

Callan and Graiguenamanagh: 1841-1981 23

4. Occupied Houses: 1849, 1901 and 1970s 24

5. Number of inhabited Rooms by Household and Occupation in 1901 27

6. Percentages of People, by age and Sex, Married and Unmarried

in Thomastown Rural District: 1871 and 1891 29

7. Percentages of Married and Unmarried Men in the DEDs of

Thomastown and Jerpoint Church, 1901, by Age and Occupation 29

8. Percentages of People, by Age and Sex. Married and Unmarried 30

in Thomastown: 1936, 1961 and 1981

9. Occupations in 1901 for Thomastown Parish Adults 33

10. Household Structure in Thomastown Parish, 1901 35

11. Occupation and Household Structure in 1901 36

12. Income on the Waterford-Kilkenny Railway: 1853-1900 48

13. Retail Shopkeepers: 1845, 1884, 1911 and 1945 54-7

14. Thomastown Parish Mills in 1849 62

15. Wheat and Maize Milled in Grennan Mill: 1859-1907 78

16. List of Artisans: 1846, 1884 and 1945 88-9

17. Employment in the Larger Businesses in Thomastown 91

18. Tracing Contemporary Farm Families to 1849 94

19. 1849 Farm Families in 1982 According to Size of Holding 95

20. Number of Farm-holdings, 1849 and 1982, in Jerpoint,

Pleberstown and Thomastown DEDs 97

21. Tillage-Grass Ratios in Thomastown and Jerpoint Church DED S:1847-1975 98

22. Tillage-Grass Ratios for DEDs Overlapping Thomastown Parish,

1851 99

23. Tillage-Grass Ratios for DEDs Overlapping Thomastown Parish,

1975 100

24. Rates of Agricultural Production. 1854, in Selected Parish DEDS. 101

25, Thomastown Poor Law Union: Tillage Acreage, Hay Acreage and

Output. 1854-1914 102

26. Thomastown Poor Law Union: Tillage and Hay Acreage, 1934-1975 103

27. Livestock in Thomastown Poor Law Union, 1850-1914. and in

Thomastown and Jerpoint Church DEDS. 1925-1975 105

28. Types of Cattle in Thomastown Union. 1850-1914 and in

Thomastown and Jerpoint Church DEDS. 1925-1970 105

29. Number of Agricultural Labourers in Thomastown and Jerpoint

Church DEDS: 1927-1975 111

30. Thomastown's Major Landlords 115-6

31. Rents in Thomastown: 1833-1858 120

32. Rents in Thomastown: 1858-1880 121

33. Guardians Resident in the Parish: 1850-1899 137

34. Rural District Councillors Resident in the Parish: 1899-1926 138

35. County Councillors Resident in the Parish: 1899-1979 139

36. M.P.s for Constituencies containing Thomastown Parish:

1841-1918 140-1

37. Number of Workhouse Inmates: 1857-1892 234

38. Number of Boys Registered in Thomastown National School: 239


List of Maps

A. The situation of Thomastown iii

B. Townlands of Thomastown Catholic Parish 19

List of Plates

1. The River Nore downstream from the town. (C. 1901)

2. View of the town from the bridge. showing the Chapel, Convent and former

Boys' School (C.1901)

3. Low Street (C.1901).

4. Market Street (C. 1901).

5. Market Street, 1983.

6. Pipe Street. 1983.

7. Maudlin. Street. 1983.

Mill Street. 1983.